Archive for the 'General' Category


From Core TV – focus on PB, Brexit, the “Democrats”, the Tory leadership and more

Saturday, August 19th, 2017

No David Herdson with his usual Saturday morning post this morning but instead this TV feature on PB and many of the issues we’ve been discussing on the site over the past few weeks.

This interview, by Rob Double, was recorded yesterday afternoon for Core TV the new online news and politics channel.

My views and assessments won’t be unfamiliar to regular PBers.

Mike Smithson


It’s (Third) Party Time!!

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017

Stodge looks back to the 80s to reflect on today’s developments

I joined the Liberal Party in 1980 and by January 1982 was an activist in south-east London and I remember going out knocking on doors in the bleak midwinter and coming back astonished at the collapse of the Conservative vote in an area which had routinely voted 65-70% Conservative at local elections.

Perhaps the house owners were taking pity on me – the passage of time may make it seem more than it was – but the number of times I was told it was time to get rid of “that bloody woman” and they would vote against the Conservatives to make it happen was too many to be mere coincidence.

The only person who was getting a more positive response was my canvassing colleague, a middle aged former bank worker who had never been in a political party but had joined the SDP in March 1981. Had he known what he was letting himself in for, I wondered if he would have changed his mind but he was keen and enthusiastic and could communicate with the disillusioned Conservatives in a way I never could.

It’s often forgotten the SDP attracted Conservatives as well as Labour support but two thirds of those who joined had never belonged to a political party.

Then came the Falklands War and it’s not often appreciated that not only did it save Margaret Thatcher and ensure her 1983 landslide but it also saved Labour by removing the very real threat of the Alliance parties challenging them for second place in seats and votes. With that threat removed, the road to the Blair landslide of 1997 was open.

History rarely repeats itself but those who advocate a new or third party are constantly reminded of the failure of the SDP as a salutary lesson, an inevitability that any new force will be broken on the rocks of the duopoly and FPTP and with more than 80% voting either Conservative or Labour in June that seems a real and valid point but nearly 80% voted for the two main parties in 1979 and that didn’t stop the SDP’s creation.

What then does the new party need to survive and succeed?


All politicians need it and some have it in large quantities but no one has it for ever. The new party needs a high-profile defection, an unexpected endorsement and a by-election in the right place to establish its credentials.


The new party needs high-profile supporters such as a George Osborne or a David Miliband. The last attempt at a breakaway party, UKIP, owed its success to the media presence of Nigel Farage and the good fortune of David Cameron who in winning his own majority in 2015 gave UKIP the referendum it always wanted and the chance to achieve its dream.


UKIP worked because everyone knew what it stood for – a referendum on UK membership of the European Union in which UKIP would campaign for a vote to Leave.

There were UKIP policies on a range of other issues but no one was interested.

A new party needs to have a unique selling point (USP) – something which differentiates it from other parties. UKIP had theirs – the Liberal Democrats did well when being opposed to intervention in Iraq. For parties aspiring to Government, it’s more complex and complicated.

The SDP had policies on everything and behaved as though they were going to be a governing party. Realistically, the Alliance’s best hope was to gain enough seats to create a Hung Parliament and negotiate with either the Conservative or Labour parties (essentially what happened in 2010).

The new party will face a similar dilemma and unless it can provoke a large scale schism in either the Conservative or Labour parties (50 MPs from each side would do it) it’s going to face an uphill battle to get organised and even if it has funding, to get its message heard once the initial euphoria has died away.

Who’s In?

Rather like a female Doctor Who, there will be some novelty value to a new political force and especially if it gets a few defections to establish itself as a presence at Westminster and in some local Councils.

Will it be a place where Blairites, Orange Book Liberals and Liberal Conservatives can coalesce and agree a common platform? It’s often called the “soggy centre” or the “marshy middle ground” but there’s plenty of potential for agreement on Brexit and perhaps other areas.

The Others:

How will a new party interact with the others in the political arena? So much depends on where its “origins” are. The SDP was predominantly an ex-Labour party at Westminster and it was always my experience that Labour activists were incredibly hostile toward the SDP while they treated Liberals like me with civility and respect while Conservatives tended to be fairly indifferent.

The schism within Labour (of which current Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable was a part) caused bad blood for decades.

In the end, ironically, the SDP post-merger diaspora found its way into and took over both the Labour and Conservative parties and both Blair and Cameron can be recognisably seen as less the scions of Thatcher but more the children of Doctor Death.

Any new party will rapidly need to establish a modus vivendi with the Liberal Democrats either through an electoral pact or common platform.

The Party I joined in 1980 was broken by the Coalition – nearly three quarters of the current Liberal Democrat membership joined AFTER 2015 so you could argue there’s already a new party out there (as there is a new Labour Party as well).


Kylie Minogue once opined “I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky” and a new party is going to need all the luck going to get off the ground and be successful.

As a minimum, it needs money, high profile figures and a USP to set it apart from the others. It can’t simply be a collection of political failures but has to be seen to be a party for younger people and for those not previously interested in politics.

It will enjoy an initial honeymoon but that will fade and the serious graft of establishing local identity and presence will begin. I would advocate concentrating on areas of membership strength and get local council candidates (or defectors) to set up organisations and start thinking about prospective candidates.

Kylie also said “It’s Never Too Late, We’ve Still Got Time” but the truth is any new party will need every second between now and a 2022 election to get itself moving. Britain isn’t France and the example of Macron won’t work over here.



Reports of 20 dead after what appears to be terrorist incident at Manchester concert

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017


The Westminster attacks: It’ll be some time before we get the full picture

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

We do know that a policemen was killed bringing current death toll to 2


Donald Trump, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt feature in the big stories overnight

Sunday, January 15th, 2017


Professor Anthony King, one of Britain’s leading psephologists, dies at the age of 82

Thursday, January 12th, 2017

Prof Anthony King being awarded, alongside Prof Ivor Crewe, the 2014 Practical Politics Book of the Year award

Professor Anthony King, one of Britain’s leading political scientists, has died at the age of 82. He’s perhaps best known for his appearances on election results programmes and his lucid analysis. From 1983 – 2005, he was BBC TV analyst on General Election nights. Also, every month for many years, he was the main commentator on political opinion polls for The Daily Telegraph.

He wrote many books on politics and was co-editor of the Britain at the Polls series of essays and, in 2008, The British Constitution.

King was co-author with David Butler of the Nuffield College election studies for the 1964 and 1966 and wrote Britain Says Yes: the 1975 Referendum on the Common Market.

Many of his later works were co-authored with his then University of Essex colleague, Prof Ivor Crewe.

I met him once at an Oxford dinner shortly after I had founded PB in 2004 and we talked about the creation of the site. He was a great communicator with a wonderful ability to make politics relevant to audiences other than political geeks.

He’ll be missed.

Mike Smithson


After a Year of Revolt, what’s in store for 2017?

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

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There might well be scares but there won’t be shocks

Few would have predicted twelve months ago that Donald Trump would be about to be inaugurated, that Theresa May would be prime minister and that Paul Nuttall would be leader of UKIP. Those who did should have cashed in nicely. There were straws in the wind for all of these (though most would have anticipated a change of UKIP leader after a Remain win, not a Leave), but the odds were still strongly against.

Can 2017 provide even more shocks and surprises? After the last two years, it’d be foolhardy to rule it out but my guess would be that the narrative of year will be of a mainstream fightback under pressure (though this narrative won’t necessarily be correct: the local trends are likely to remain towards the political insurgents; it’s just that this year’s elections have them starting further back).

Domestically, politics is Brexit. We’ll get the Supreme Court ruling next month on whether the government can trigger Article 50 without the need to go to parliament. After the strong ruling in the High Court in the applicant’s favour, I’d be surprised if the Supreme Court overturned that decision (although as said here, I think there are strong grounds for doing so). That’s going to mean the early months being dominated by the triggering legislation, in order for Theresa May to hit her end-of-March deadline.

My expectation is that parliament will give the government what it wants – a clean Act not tying its hands with conditions. There probably aren’t the numbers in the Commons to force amendments through and the Lords are unlikely to risk more than token opposition (which is to say that they’ll back down when the Commons reverses any amendments they pass). However, there’s a chance they won’t, in which case there is a serious chance of a May 2017 election, particularly given that Corbyn has said he’d support a dissolution motion were one brought. Given that Corbyn, the PLP and the government might all have reason to want an early election, and that the critical time for the Brexit votes ties in with dates when an election would need to be called to coincide with the local elections, I’d put that chance at about 1 in 3 – though the best odds of 7/4 don’t offer value.

If there is an election, the secondary markets however might do. A Labour leadership election would be likely to follow, where Clive Lewis (10/1) might be worth a punt (with the added advantage that if there’s not an election, the bet still runs). ‘Who governs?’ elections can go wrong for governments but I doubt one would if called because Labour and Lib Dem peers were frustrating Brexit (which is one reason I don’t think they will), and with Corbyn still as Labour leader.

More likely, in the absence of an election, is that the Tory lead will decline as internal divisions over Brexit make themselves felt and the process itself struggles onwards against both domestic and EU opposition. In the ‘Next cabinet minister out’, the Three Brexiteers are top-priced but I’d look elsewhere. As a rule, the payouts in this market are hard to predict months in advance and come about due to incidents of the moment. My tip would be to take your pick of anyone 20/1 and up. What I wouldn’t expect – even in the event of a Con win after a general election – is a major reshuffle. May made huge changes on coming to office and is unlikely to want to repeat that only nine months on.

If there’s not an election, the other domestic betting question is about Corbyn’s longevity as leader: will there be another challenge and will he see the year out? The Unite leadership contest is to some extent a proxy but union elections have notoriously low turnouts and with both the status quo and Momentum-type activists going for him, McClusky should be secure. If he does lose, however, I wouldn’t expect Corbyn to see the year out. Even if he wins, the tide is now probably flowing against the Labour leader. However, as they found last year, the capacity of a Labour leader determined to cling on is immense and were his opponents to lose a second challenge, it’d damage the credibility of a third in 2018 or 2019. Because it’s now a one-shot option, and because a general election is unlikely in 2018, I think Corbyn will see the year out.

Internationally, the year starts with Trump’s inauguration. This will undoubtedly mark a change in style in the White House and in policy too – though quite where his priorities will lie are anyone’s guess. A leader can only fight on so many fronts; is it the Wall, Healthcare, foreign policy or something else? Or will he simply lead an incoherent administration shouting about everything but achieving very little? You can make a good case either way. He ought to go on healthcare, where he at least has congressional support.

In Europe, the course for this year’s elections is probably already set: centre-right administrations will win weak mandates in the Netherlands, France and Germany against populist insurgents. This will then be wrongly credited as a ‘fightback’, after Brexit and Trump. In reality, all three elections will see the mainstream retreat locally. All the same, Wilders, Le Pen and the AfD will end the year with lots of votes but no power.

All of which is to count without Black Swans. Even a series of terrorist attacks is unlikely to swing the European results – the Netherlands votes as soon as March; Fillon would play sufficiently to the same law, order and culture market as Le Pen to see her off; while the AfD have become too extreme to capitalise effectively. Brexit also seems to have consolidated support for the EU among Europeans; 2017 is unlikely to change that dynamic.

The other big Black Swan risk – a major economic downturn, perhaps induced from China – is real but would take time to feed through to political consequences. One to watch for by 2020 rather than 2017.

All in all, after the shocks of 2015 and 2016, we should see a quiet 2017. Famous last words.

David Herdson


The big one: Cyclefree announces her awards for 2016

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Based on NO polling, focus groups or other quasi-scientific methods

The Nicky Morgan Award for Lack of Self-Awareness

A difficult one, this, with so many contenders, not least Ms Morgan herself. But in the end this was jointly shared by the EU and Britain. Both displayed monumental self-regard and a total inability to understand that, perhaps, just perhaps, their own behaviour had a teensy bit to do with why they could not get on.

The Ken Livingstone Award for Trashing One’s Reputation

Old lizard Ken would run away with this award but he is quite self-important enough not to need his ego stroking anymore. A lot of runners for this one: Gove – not quite Machiavellian enough and perhaps his reputation was rather greater in his own living-room than outside it; Osborne – punishment budget, indeed! Where did he think he was? Northern Ireland?; David Cameron – who gambled and lost but, maybe, history will be kinder. And who could forget the spectacular immolation of Andrea Leadsom, pushed forward by a cabal of Brexiteers like some latter Lady Jane Grey, but fortunately now ensconced with farmers rather than in the Tower. Zac Goldsmith was seriously considered for this one: a sort of consolation prize for two inept and occasionally distasteful campaigns.

But, in the end, there could be only one winner. Arise Baroness Shabby Chakrabarti. Having carefully cultivated a reputation for being a fearless advocate of civil liberties (though perhaps rather more impressive as an advocate for herself), she managed to destroy her own reputation by siding with those who want to downplay the spread of anti-semitism in the party she conveniently joined just before applying her whitewash and from who she, even more conveniently, got her bit of fur. She ought at least to have held out for Wales.

The Nuclear Cockroach Award

It is said that cockroaches will survive nuclear armageddon. Whether true or not, Jeremy Corbyn richly deserves this award. Despite attacks by his own party which would have felled a lesser – or perhaps more sensitive – politician, he is still there as leader, busy remaking the party in his own image and repelling all attempts to oust him. His tribute to HMQ on her 90th birthday was gracious. And he’s not quite as awful at PMQs as he was. Maybe he will turn into the Tortoise of British politics.

The Low Bar Award

This is for the field of human activity where the left behind, the thick, the incompetent, the dull can shine. Awards are not just for the elite, you know! And the winner is English politics where the three party leaders consist of a woman being petulant over leather trousers, a malign tramp and a man with all the charisma of a cloakroom attendant. Well done! (Scotland was disqualified on the grounds that its politicians are able to string a series of coherent sentences together.)

The Total F**king Waste of Money Award

Not Jeb Bush and not Hilary Clinton. No, this award indubitably belongs to all those who paid money to the Clinton Foundation over the years. Oh dear. Never mind.

Best Cleavage in Politics

Mrs May wins this. 10 out of 10 for showing that older women still have breasts and can have style. But ditch the big boiled sweet necklaces, darling. Jewellery which looks as if it came from a fairground is not at all comme il faut.

Most Moving Sporting Moment

Nick Skelton trying not to blub – and failing – as he listened to the National Anthem after finally winning an Olympic Gold at the age of 58. Not a dry eye in the Cyclefree household.

And finally, The Best Political Website Award.

Well, doh! This one, of course. ? (Sorry, Tyson!) Where else can one come to be informed, entertained, advised and insulted and put in a position to make money.

Enjoy the festivities, one and all!